Friday, March 17, 2017

James Cotton remembered

The NYT had an obituary for James Cotton today.  He was a Chicago bluesman  who had his own band from the mid-60's into the 70's.  His trademark was the harmonica that he learned from Sonny Boy Williamson as a child in Mississippi and in Chicago from Little Walter as a back up in the Muddy Waters band.  As Little Walter aged and had his own gigs, Cotton became the main harmonica and vocal background man with Muddy Waters in the late 50's into the 60's.

Why all of this background?  The James Cotton Blues Band was the first live blues band that was seen here, here in the personal sense as that it was in the fall of 1967 in D.C.  I had become an initiate into the blues in my senior year in high school when a friend introduced me to the Paul Butterfield Blue Band.  That led to initial forays into both country blues(Robert Johnson) and urban blues(Sonny Boy, Magic Sam, Muddy Waters) on records.

Off to college I went from my modest southern town, both naive about many things of course but more knowledgeable about a few things than my freshman classmates. That's presumptuous to say maybe, maybe not, but just from the point of view of this comment, blues music, that was the totally the case except for one person. That was Jimmy from Cleveland a few rooms down.  With the Doors blasting out of Paul's room with his big speakers, the Stones and some blues from my minor turntable, and pop music from radios in the dorm, Jimmy played only Chicago blues.  He knew everything about it.

We quickly became friends and he found that James Cotton was playing at an auditorium in a fringe neighborhood(fringe is quaint term for 1960's center D.C.) and off we went.  The band was solid Chicago, what a time.  Cotton was not the best that I heard over the years but that night he was surely the best, and it was a bookmark in my music history.

As we were taking buses and had a change, Jimmy and I were accosted by young white gun carrying crew very late that night in our bus change, but between us had so little money it was inconsequential on that score, and highly positive as we talked them away, though not taken lightly or forgotten.

That's my James Cotton memory.  He was seen in D.C. other times as a guy with a reliable band, but there were so many others that were much better, Muddy Waters at the Cellar Door and  Junior Wells in particular at places in Manhattan. Cotton is remembered as the first live blues band, and how good it can be in a real blues setting, and how good is that.  RIP James Cotton at only 81.  I had no idea that you were still alive.


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